Many of us will avoid tours and excursions simply to maintain a safe distance from potential tourist traps and gimmicks. Of course, some signature tourist stops are found in every travel guide for good reason. I’ve been living in Cancun for nearly a decade, and I’ve seen everything from the smallest, back-alley street market to the parades of tacky group tours milling throughout Cancun. We all love the well-kept-local secrets; but there are a few hallmark sites that can’t be missed. The best tours are informative, entertaining, and give you context that will truly allow these destinations to come to life. Each of the tours listed below are popular amongst visitors, and can be easily booked from the tour desk at your hotel: perfect for a hassle-free day trip during your Cancun vacation. So grab your camera, lace-up your sneakers, strap on your fannypack and and give in to the touristy spirit.
Located one hour south of Cancun is this immense nature park in the Riviera Maya. Visitors are invited to snorkel in the Caribbean shores, to partake in Mexican festivities (Mayan ball games; the aerial feats of the papantla performers), and to interact with the regional wildlife. While you’re at Xcaret, make sure to swim through the underground river and visit the butterfly pavilion—my personal favorite activities.
Picture an ancient temple set atop a rocky cliff with the waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing on the beach below. That image is Tulum. This centuries-old Mayan city is a necessary addition to any Cancun vacation photo album. I recommend touring the ruins with a trained guide, who can narrate the scene with the city’s extraordinary historical background.
Every May through September, whale sharks migrate to the Mexican Caribbean to feed on the plankton-rich waters. During the summer season, you can book boat tours from Cancun to snorkel alongside them on their journey. From head to tail, these enormous creatures can stretch to 45-feet long, making them the world’s largest fish. Don’t be alarmed by the word shark; whale sharks are peaceful and harmless filter-feeders.
Only a handful of tour companies have permits to take visitors to this secluded Caribbean island, allowing only 200 people a day onto Isla Contoy’s pristine white-sand beaches. The abundant wildlife includes stingrays, sea turtles, lobsters, and more than 150 bird species. The island provides a lush tropical haven for animals and visitors alike.
One of the most powerful cities of the Mayan civilization is now a history-packed tourist attraction. Most people know Chichen Itza for its central El Castillo pyramid and spring equinox events, but this ancient city holds so much more. My favorite building is the beautiful Observatory, once known as El Caracol. Its cylindrical dome reaches high about the thick surrounding canopies for a limitless view of the skies.